The death of Johnny Carson last week got me thinking, both of my memories of watching The Tonight Show with my dad, and also of another Johnny Carson that I knew—the Johnny Carson who lived in the Marvel universe.
Carson was such a cultural icon that he would even turn up from time to time in Marvel comics, usually in one-panel cameo appearances, often accompanied by his ubiquitous sidekick, Ed McMahon. Here are some of his earliest appearances:
Amazing Spider-Man # 50
Johnny’s guest: J. Jonah Jameson.
In what appears to be Johnny’s first Marvel Universe appearance, he has Daily Bugle publisher J. Jonah Jameson on the program to show off Spider-Man’s costume, which Jameson has come into possession of after it was found in a garbage can. The paper’s headline “Is Spider-Man Thru?” has kicked off a storm of speculation about the web-slinger’s fate. As Ed McMahon holds up Spidey’s costume for the cameras, Jameson can’t resist slipping in a plug for the Bugle.
Daredevil # 46
Johnny’s guest: The Jester / Daredevil.
The Jester appears on The Tonight Show to brag about his capture of Daredevil, who was wanted for the murder of small-time actor Jonathan Powers, who had claimed he would reveal Daredevil’s secret identity. However, during the show, another Jester bursts into the studio claiming to be the real deal, and sure enough, Johnny’s guest is revealed to be Daredevil in disguise. While the cameras keep rolling, Daredevil and the Jester battle it out in the studio until DD gets the upper hand. He unmasks the Jester, who turns out to be Jonathan Powers himself, very much alive. Although it isn’t shown, after the Jester is taken away by the police, it is likely that Daredevil gave Johnny—and the viewers at home—a full explanation.
Avengers # 77
Johnny’s guests: Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch.
The Daredevil show must have been a ratings hit, because within the week, Johnny has booked more superheroes on his program. This one is less chaotic, however, as the brother-and-sister mutant Avengers merely announce that the super-team must raise $120,000 in one week to help their benefactor, Tony Stark, out of some financial difficulty. Therefore, they are looking for paying gigs, and have come on the show for some free publicity. Johnny’s good-natured ribbing of the hot-headed Quicksilver leaves one wondering what the rest of the interview was like.
Amazing Spider-Man # 99
Johnny’s guest: Spider-Man.
In lieu of his opening monologue, Johnny has Spider-Man swing out over the crowd, land on stage, and demonstrate his wall-crawling and web-spinning abilities. Then, the ever-unpredictable Spidey gives an off-the-cuff speech about prison reform and the problems of America’s criminal justice system. Before the audience can fall asleep, however, the police burst in with a warrant for Spider-Man’s arrest, and webhead makes a hasty exit. Presumably, Johnny and Ed laughed it off, and the show proceeded normally. For a change, Johnny is actually a character in this story, as we see him earlier trying to talk Spidey into appearing on the show, as well as having a scene backstage just before taping begins.
It’s important to remember that these stories took place when Johnny was still based in New York City. His appearances in Marvel comics became much more infrequent after he moved out to California. Also, Johnny’s full name, and the name of the show, are usually not mentioned in any of his comic book appearances, but there’s no mistaking the king of late-night TV.